National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 7?

A new Lion sliced, diced and served up a big road win in Columbus, a couple of fresh faces offered hope amid early-season gloom in KC and DC, and a young attacking trio sauced a good team right into oblivion in a 6-0 Bronx goleada.

This is your YPPOTW from a spring weekend both festive and holy.

We all know how many top players just love to prove critics wrong, taking motivation from any doubts expressed by skeptical fans and pundits. So the question simply must be asked: Is Orlando’s Uruguayan winger a religious reader of!?

Our very own Joe Lowery and Matt Doyle have documented in detail their concerns with Torres’ uneven start to his MLS career, and my oh my has he found another gear over the past couple of matchdays.

The 22-year-old assisted on both of the Lions’ goals in their 2-0 road win over the Crew, the first, to Rodrigo Schlegel, helped by some slack defending by Columbus but nevertheless the result of a driven cross with some tricky texture on it.

After halftime Torres drifted inside – isn’t this just the kind of thing you were asking for, Armchair Analyst? – to take part in a truly gorgeous rapid-fire one-touch passing combination capped by Ercan Kara’s clinical finish. “Facu” has now logged three assists in Orlando’s last two matches, and if he and his attacking mates keep building on the chemistry they flashed in Ohio, the rest of the Eastern Conference might have some problems ahead.

Gonzalo Pineda handed the Five Stripes’ 17-year-old homegrown his first start of the season as FC Cincinnati hit town, and Wiley showed he’s eminently deserving of more opportunities with a lively 74 minutes along the left flank. Especially for a so-called “defender”!

The teenager played an impressive four key passes and went 3/3 on dribbles, one of which – a mazy run deep into the Cincy penalty box – led to the penalty kick that, alas for ATL, Marcelino Moreno was unable to steer past their old boy Alec Kann.

All that service added up to a game-high 0.72 expected assists number, and Wiley also got stuck into several duels and won most of them. As talent-rich as Atlanta’s expensively-assembled front line is, the local US youth international looks to be making a pretty decent case for more opportunities.

This week’s list has a Celeste flavor to it: Rodriguez joins his fellow Uruguayan Torres after he played a key role in engineering NYCFC’s 6-0 shredding of Real Salt Lake at Yankee Stadium.

Working at the center of the Cityzens’ dynamic attacking band of three, Rodriguez was energetic off the ball and clean on it, bustling around to play three key passes, notch two assists (one of which arrived via one of his five corners), complete a couple of dribbles, earn two free kicks and contribute several defensive actions – all in just under an hour on the pitch. Efficiency!

NYCFC’s No. 20 has been solid since his arrival last summer on loan from their CFG sibling club Montevideo City Torque, and even now it’s hard to imagine him not being acquired on a permanent basis when his loan expires at year’s end. And he’s only one of several bright young things in Bronx baby blue…

Yeah, that 6-0 provided plenty of YPPOTW fodder, because while Taty Castellanos’ four-goal outburst hogged the headlines, he was aided and abetted by the youthful trio behind him. Next on our list is Thiago, who scored City’s other two goals, completed passes at a 76% clip and waded into 15 duels.

The 21-year-old has already tabulated seven goals and two assists in his 1,226 minutes of MLS play – and he’s only made 11 starts thus far! – showcasing speed, power, trickery and a high soccer IQ.

Their Concacaf Champions League semifinal exit at the hands of the Seattle Sounders undoubtedly stung. Yet NYC bounced back in ideal fashion at the weekend and with so much talent like Thiago at Ronny Deila’s disposal, it’s clear they have plenty to look forward to as they shift their focus to their MLS Cup title defense in the months ahead.

After months of road games and matchdays under the roof at The Big Owe, the Quebecois club finally got to get outside and christen Stade Saputo on Saturday, holding off Vancouver for a 2-1 victory that extends their winning streak to three. Spring is finally approaching in Montreal and CFM’s teenage central midfielder continues to blossom.

Koné completed a dazzling 45-of-46 passes (97.8%) against the Whitecaps and was also a muscular force with the ball at his feet, moving his side forward with defense to attack as he so often does:

Canada national team coach John Herdman has called him “fearless” and that personality trait courses through the 19-year-old’s game. Koné still makes mistakes – though not many on this occasion – but his comfort level with the bravery required to be a true modern box-to-box presence bodes ever so well for his future.

Honorable mentions

Marinos Tzionis: Sporting Kansas City are rapidly sinking towards the bottom of the standings with just six points from a possible 24. Yet they really did ask some tough questions of league co-leaders LAFC on Sunday, and their Cypriot newcomer was at the heart of much of it. Tasked with the No. 10 role as Peter Vermes shifted to a 4-2-3-1 to fortify his defense, the 20-year-old attacker went 3/5 on dribbles, won the lion’s share of his 13 duels and drew five fouls as SKC held their own for more than half the match.

Talles Magno: In most any other week, NYCFC’s silky 19-year-old would have no trouble making the YPPOTW top five after he bagged an assist, two key passes, two successful dribbles and five fouls drawn against RSL. In this case, he falls just a step behind his teammates Santi and Thiago, though we’ll probably see plenty more of him in the rundowns to come.

Ian Murphy: FC Cincinnati’s rookie defender anchored the Knifey Lions’ defiant resistance in Atlanta, contributing more than a dozen defensive actions as they fought, scrapped and rode their luck to earn a clean sheet and a road point. The Duke product looks like one to watch.

Jackson Hopkins: It’s been a frustrating month-plus for D.C. United, who fumbled away three points at home to Austin FC in infamous fashion and now haven’t won since Week 2. Hopkins is a silver lining, though. The Black-and-Red thrust their newest first-teamer into the starting lineup less than a week after he signed his homegrown deal, and the 17-year-old held his own and then some in his MLS debut. He completed 81.3% of his passes, including one key pass, went very close with a well-crafted shooting opportunity and covered the ground required in United’s pressing system.


Audi Goals Drive Progress

MLS Academies have been identified as one of the most important resources for building on-field talent in North America. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress initiative, Audi has committed $1 million per season in an effort to advance academies league-wide, and to drive progress for the sport. For every goal scored in the regular season, Audi will contribute $500 into the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund to directly support each MLS Club Youth Academy.